Republicans won a definitive mandate from voters Tuesday as they picked up a super majority in the Kentucky House of Representatives.
After being relegated to the back bench of lawmaking in the House for 95 years, the GOP will claim its long-sought prize of controlling all three branches of state government when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 3.
Unfettered by Democrats, Republican lawmakers and Gov. Matt Bevin are expected to approve a flood of legislation that outgoing House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has stymied in recent years.
Here’s how those laws might impact your life.
Never miss a local story.
It might get harder to have an abortion
Kentucky lawmakers won’t be able to eliminate a woman’s right to get an abortion, but they’ll certainly be able to make it more difficult.
Bevin’s administration has already successfully sued and temporarily shut down the only abortion clinic in Lexington, leaving Louisville with the state’s only abortion clinic.
Over the past couple years, Senate Republicans have passed a variety of pro-life bills only to see some them fail or be significantly modified in the House. That is expected to change since many of the 23 new Republican state lawmakers ran on pro-life platforms.
Martin Cothran, spokesman for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, said he thinks a GOP-led House will welcome a bill that requires doctors to present women who want an abortion with the results of an ultrasound before the procedure. Another proposal to end state funding for Planned Parenthood clinics might also find new life.
“We are pretty confident that those bills will be taken up rather quickly,” Cothran said.
Cothran said the Family Foundation doesn’t have a set agenda on pro-life bills yet, but they look to pass more regulations on abortion clinics.
“We’ll probably be looking at other states,” he said.
Your tax bill might change
Bevin and House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, a Jamestown Republican who is likely to replace Stumbo as House speaker, promised Wednesday to deliver on a new tax code in Kentucky. Bevin told WHAS-AM radio in Louisville that he wants to lower the overall tax burden while raising revenue by eliminating tax loopholes.
“This will come and everything is going to be on the table,” Bevin told WHAS. “And I do believe we have to move to a more consumption-based economy and less of a production-based economy.”
In other words, expect income taxes to go down and sales taxes to increase or expand to additional goods and services.
In a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Hoover said he shares Bevin’s commitment to reforming the tax code, as did Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester.
“Comprehensive tax reform has to be done in this state,” Hoover said.
Hoover, though, wouldn’t guarantee that lawmakers will take up the complicated task in 2017. Instead, he promised it would be done by the end of the 2018 legislative session.
Les Fugate, a Republican lobbyist with RunSwitch PR, said much of the GOP’s agenda would only affect small portions of the state’s population, but tax reform would likely impact every Kentuckian on a daily basis.
“The biggest one is tax reform,” Fugate said.
It might get harder to sue your doctor
One of Bevin’s major goals is to create reform in the courts.
Most recently, the Republcan-led Senate has pushed a bill that would establish “medical review panels” to consider the merit of malpractice, abuse or neglect lawsuits against medical providers. While suits could proceed in court even if the panel decided they were without merit, the review panel’s opinion could be entered into a trial as evidence.
Supporters of the bill argue that limiting the ability to sue doctors for large sums of money would help lower overall medical costs because doctor’s wouldn’t have to pay as much for malpractice insurance. Opponents note that there are about 2,700 deaths annually in the state due to preventable medical errors.
Bevin also has been frustrated by rulings against him in Franklin Circuit Court, where all lawsuits against the state must be filed. In the past, some Republicans have proposed changing that law to allow lawsuits against the state in any county. Opponents argue that such a change would produce inconsistent rulings that might clog up the appellate court system.
You might get to choose a charter school
Bevin is a major proponent of charter schools, which are run by outside groups but funded by taxpayers. They often don’t have to meet the same requirements as traditional public schools.
Charter schools are unlikely to affect rural parts of the state, where the population is small, but it could have a major impact on the school systems in Louisville, Lexington and other urban areas.
The most recent charter schools proposal in the state Senate would create a pilot program for charter schools in Fayette and Jefferson counties.
Already, Bevin’s appointees to the Kentucky Board of Education have pressed for a work session in November to help the board develop a position on charter schools.
Unions are likely to get weaker
Bevin and Republican lawmakers have repeatedly promised to enact so-called “right-to-work” legislation that would end workplace requirements for union membership.
Republicans argue that businesses are more likely to locate in states that have such laws, therefore boosting jobs and the economy. But opponents argue that while “right to work” may attract businesses, it drives down wages, as found in a 2011 study.
“We fully expect them to implement these backward policies to prevent us from raising wages for workers,” said Bill Londrigan, the president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO.
The people most affected by the law would be the 11 percent of the workforce who were covered by union contracts in 2015. Non-union workers would only be affected if the law brings more jobs or drives down wages.
Repeal of the prevailing wage law is likely
Anti-union legislation is often coupled with proposals to repeal Kentucky’s prevailing wage law, which sets a minimum wage for workers on government construction projects. Supporters of prevailing wage say it forces contractors to be hired based on quality rather than price.
Londrigan said eliminating the prevailing wage requirement could affect the stability of the construction industry.
“What will happen is the wages of construction workers on state bids will decline,” Londrigan said.
Opponents argue prevailing wage obstructs the free market and causes costs for government projects, such as school construction, to needlessly escalate.
“It increases taxpayers cost of building infrastructure based on artificially inflated wage,” said Dave Adkisson, the CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Things could get complicated for gay and transgender Kentuckians
Neither Bevin nor Hoover have indicated they plan to take up legislation that would affect the LGBTQ population.
However, several newly elected House members campaigned against transgender people being allowed to use the bathroom that coincides with their gender identity.
Last legislative session, the Senate passed a bill that would forbid students in schools from using the bathroom designated for the opposite sex, similar to portions of a bill in North Carolina.
While running for office, Bevin called the transgender bathroom issue nonsense, but his office later joined a lawsuit against the Obama administration over the issue.
In North Carolina, lawmakers also banned cities from approving non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBTQ people. Several Kentucky cities, including Lexington and Louisville, have approved such ordinances. Cothran said the Family Foundation is keeping an eye on the issue but has no immediate plans to push legislation that would scale back local non-discrimination ordinances.
“The problem is that some of the local gay rights legislation is a recipe for anti-religious expression,” Cothran said.
In North Carolina, boycotts resulting from the law have cost the state nearly $400 million, according to some estimates.